Family… can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em.
Or in some cases, just can't live with 'em!
If you're dealing with difficult family members or family drama, I'm about to take you through a practical guide for navigating those family relationship challenges.
Grab a pen and paper as you're about to find out:
a) the essential PARADIGM SHIFTS necessary for you to powerfully deal with difficult family and
b) the NEW ACTIONS you can start taking today!
Dealing with Difficult Family Members
Below is a breakdown of the key points from this coaching video in summary…
1. Always Focus on What You CAN Control
Your point of power in dealing with life challenges, including interacting with difficult people, is always to focus on what you CAN control, not what you can't control.
It can happen so easily in difficult family dynamics that each person gets obsessively focused on what the other person is doing wrong, and what they should do better. That seems logical, but it's a road to nowhere.
If you're focusing on what someone else should be doing, that isn't something you can control, and it's largely a waste of your energy.
You want to be optimally effective with your time, energy and efforts by focusing squarely on what you can control… YOURSELF!
Your power is always within. To shift your beliefs, thoughts, feelings. Altering your energy about the situation (upping your vibration!). Making more conscious choices and taking more conscious actions.
In this way you completely change YOUR part of the equation in the relationship, and because it takes “two to tango” – when you create change in yourself, the dynamic MUST change as a result.
Note – I said the dynamic changes. Not the other person necessarily. But because the other person is interacting with your energy, when you change yourself then the old negative pattern between the two of you can't be the same anymore.
2. Definition of the “External” Problem
Fact – someone is (or multiple people are) behaving badly.
3. Definition of the “Inner” Problem
While it may look like their behavior is the main problem, and yes it's definitely a big part of the problem, something else very important is going on.
The real inner problem for you is that they're not meeting your expectations of what family is meant to be, and how they “should” behave based on that family relationship.
As a result, you get caught up in “should” and “shouldn't”.
- This shouldn't be happening.
- They shouldn't be doing that / behaving this way / treating me like this.
4. The Roles We Want our Family to Play
The reason you have those expectations, which the family member is not living up to, is because you think due to the blood relationship and “role” they have in your life, there is certain behavior that “should” be happening and “shouldn't” be happening.
That's very natural!
For example – Mothers should be/do X. Fathers should be/do Y. Grandparents, children, cousins, in-laws, partners/spouses… should be/do Z.
Along with the expectation of what they should be and do, we also have a long list of things they absolutely should not be and do!
We formulate these “role expectations” based on values, morals, cultural expectations and the way society conditions us to believe that families should be. We see it on the TV, in movies and in advertisements.
We then experience something in our own family that doesn't match up, and we become aggrieved and see the GAP between what our family member is doing and how they should be behaving based on these expectations we hold.
That gap is a painful experience. It's a mismatch… “I've got in-laws that don't live up to the role they should be playing”, or “I've got a parent who doesn't do what a parent should be doing”.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Now in an ideal world, of course we would want people in our family to be what we want. And at the very least, even if they can't meet our expectations, we would simply want them not to hurt us! Most people would be happy if family would just be neutral. That would be a big win. If you're in a really toxic family dynamic, I'm sure you're not necessarily looking to have your family members turn around and be so awesome that they win family member of the year! You'd probably be ecstatic if they would just not be abusive, toxic, difficult, rude, manipulative, controlling or whatever other issues they are projecting your way.
Consider this – when you look at the difficult family member, instead of seeing the human being in front of you for who they really are and what they are currently capable of (with all their own issues and paradigm blocks) you might have an idealized version of what you've always wanted them to be.
And you hold them up against that expectation.
Then when they don't meet it, over and over again, you become more and more distressed.
And, perhaps they were never capable of being that ideal role in the first place.
Perhaps they just don't have it in them?
So as long as they are what they are, and your expectation is different, the gap exists.
And that gap = pain for you.
5. Remember this About Family Members Behaving Badly
The roles we want people to play in our lives are all mind-made.
Our idealized vision of what people should be for us, while obviously very desirable and much wanted and deserved, is just that. A vision we create and want people to meet.
Look at the family member/s differently for a moment…
- Was their childhood, education, or era they grew up in something that might possibly have led them to this point where they behave in a way that doesn't work for you?
- Have they been through life experiences that might have led them to their mindset, beliefs and behaviors they now play out?
- Are they in pain within themselves, unable to be at peace with who they are, and with others and the world around them?
- What must it be like to live in their shoes, being the source of all that difficulty and pain that is being projected out?
- Are they even capable and equipped to play the role you want them to? Maybe, maybe not.
- Are they conscious enough to behave in better ways and give you what you want and need? Maybe, maybe not.
Despite all their own problems, mindset blocks, emotional issues and lifetime of conditioning, we hold them to these expectations because of the blood connection, the lineage, the family hierarchy and dynamic, the socially “agreed upon” norms of how people should behave in those positions in our lives.
And when they don't deliver, we get upset. Because “family shouldn't XYZ” and “family should XYZ”.
But the fact is – whether family or not, we're all just human beings trying to deal with our stuff.
And most people who are treating family members badly are also playing out those same issues in other areas of their lives too. It's not a family or non-family thing. It's a “being a human being” thing!
Bad behavior doesn't typically have tight boundaries, it usually seeps into many areas.
So while they may not behave the way you think family should, from a higher perspective perhaps you might see that they have their own limitations and issues that are far beyond just this family dynamic, and perhaps far beyond affecting just you.
It's a broader matter of a human being in pain, in limitation, in unconsciousness. Someone who may or may not know their own problems. Someone who may or may not even care!
None of this condones the behavior.
But it helps you to rise up and see it objectively from a “helicopter” higher perspective, where you can survey the issue with a broader view beyond your upset at being treated badly and being let down.
6. Why Some People Treat Their Own Family Worse than Strangers!
Now… yes, in many cases a family member's bad behavior is something that is not family specific, but rather it's actually a broader issue in their life of bad behavior that knows no bounds.
However, there is another common scenario which actually contradicts this!
Sometimes difficult family members are actually behaving like angels outside of the family relationships – in public, with friends, at work, socially. They hold it together in those settings, and then treat closer family relationships poorly.
Why do people do that?
Why treat those outer circle relationships with the most ideal version of themselves, putting in their best effort, and then treat the apparently most meaningful, inner circle relationships (you!) with the worst version of themselves?
Well – often people feel that the outer circle of people will reject them, call them out, judge them, shame them, challenge them and not accept them if they behave badly. So they make sure to “show up” in the way that society expects. Because if they don't, there are bad consequences.
But – at home perhaps they let their guard down, don't feel the need to try as hard and can “get away” with saying whatever, doing whatever, and blurting out all their intense emotion that is bottled up inside.
Perhaps they think… “Family's family after all. It's blood. They're not going anywhere. They have to put up with me”.
It seems that there is less chance of loss and serious repercussions when our inner issues are projected outwardly within inner circle family relationships.
So if you're being treated badly by a family member who treats non-family very well, you want to know it's not about you. It's probably that the family member is looking for an outlet for all their issues and pent up negativity and emotions, which they don't know how to consciously deal with in healthy ways, and simply the outer circle is not a safe place for it!
Of course this doesn't condone it at all. But we're seeking to see the difficult family member and their behavior in new light. From shifting your paradigm, with new perspectives, you have more power to break old cycles and find a fresh path forward.
7. Basing Your Future on New Truths When Dealing with Difficult Family Members
Here are some very important new truths as a foundation for your pathway forward if you want peace…
- From today onward, delete “should” and “shouldn't” from your vocab. Stop “shoulding” on the relationships and situations. People are what they are. There is no should or shouldn't. It is what it is. They are what they are. As soon as you say “should”, you open the doorway of pain for yourself by resisting the facts of what is.
- When we condemn someone, we chain ourselves to pain. Condemnation and negativity of any kind that we fire out into the world, never leaves its source. So while you might feel justified to project your upset and condemn that family member for their bad behavior, you carry all of that around inside of you. It's toxic and infects your life. You don't want it and don't need it. It's time to let it go (see below related resources).
- Non-judgement and non-condemnation is NOT condoning bad behavior or endorsing it, and it's not rolling over and doing nothing about it! It's simply accepting the facts of the situation – it is what it is, they are what they are. It's about choosing not to pour fuel on the fire of negativity that already exists by adding in your rejection of it and resistance to it.
- It's essential that you RELEASE the family member from the expectation you have of them, that they've not been living up to. Release the idealized vision of who you think they should be, what they should do and instead accept that they are what they are. While you would LOVE it if they were different, right now that's not happening. They are operating at the level of their current consciousness and/or capability, playing out their own issues, pain and limiting paradigm. And, they are the only ones who can choose to make a change in that. Stop expecting blood from a stone, and see that they are not equipped at this moment to either be able to, or want to, behave differently in this relationship. You can DEFINITELY still hold peaceful hope for the future that they may grow and things might change, but for now, it is what it is and they are what they are.
8. Immediate Inner Growth for You
Right now, grab and pen and paper to do this exercise. If you want to effect change, this is where you start. Standing on a foundation of the above new perspectives, you can now…
- (A) Hold yourself to a higher standard – instead of stooping to the same level of behavior, if you feel like you're done trying to take the higher road, remember… YOU DON'T BEHAVE WITH INTEGRITY TO GET SOMETHING. YOU BEHAVE WITH INTEGRITY BECAUSE THAT IS WHO YOU ARE. Be the powerful person you know you are, at all times, even when the person you're dealing with is serving you up nothing but problems. ACTION – Write down what type of person you want to be, what your values are, how you want to treat others, what type of energy you want to bring to the world each day. And remember, these standards you have for yourself are not conditional. You don't only behave this way when people are nice. You choose to be a conscious human being in this world, and even when others are not treating you well, YOU hold yourself to your own higher standards.
- (B) Be really honest with yourself about how you might have fueled their fire in the past – In what ways have you fired back pain at them, or antagonized them, or played a part in this negative pattern in the family dynamic? If we're honest with ourselves, we can see our own limitations and contributions. ACTION – write down what you know you've done in the past in negative reaction to this difficult family member triggering you. By seeing it you can CHOOSE to be alert for that in yourself next time. And if it happens again you can stage an intervention on yourself (!) and instead immediately revert to your higher standards.
9. Outer Action Phase 1: Attempting Collaboration with Them for Positive Change
Beyond your own inner work – to operate to your own higher standards and to interrupt your patterns, it's time now to look at how you can effect change in the relationship in a more direct way.
This is family. And so in most cases, you'd want to attempt to work things out and see if there is room to improve the relationship.
If that doesn't work, we can go to Phase 2 (below). But right now, let's talk about collaborating with the difficult family member in the hopes of creating positive change.
You might think you've tried to communicate with them before, to find a better way forward. And it might not have worked.
But you really need to consider the WAY in which you approached those conversations in the past.
Often we have the best of intent to find a way forward but out of frustration and upset, we're just firing upset at the other person, and they fire back, and nothing is really achieved. We get into a game of ping-pong with them, where we communicate (but it comes across as attack to them), and they respond (but it comes across as defense to us, a natural response to attack!), to which we feel attacked back and so we defend, and on it goes.
It's critical that we communicate from a place of calm, compassion and genuine higher perspective if we really want to create a powerful and peaceful path forward to a better relationship.
So you want to get yourself into a calm energy state, have clarity on the outcome you're seeking, and then communicate in a way that will REACH the other person. Conveying that you understand their position and what it must be like to feel how they do, and what life must be like for them in this dynamic. Conveying your own feelings. Showing your understanding of the pattern that is playing out for both/all of you, without judgement. And then… present a vision for how things could be in the future for everyone if changes were made, what part you're willing to play, and what you'd hope they might be willing to do also.
For step by step guidance on how to have difficult conversations (tough topics, or normal topics with difficult people!), and how to communicate effectively when you're upset, see the related resources below.
10. Action Phase 2: If No Change is Likely, it's All About Your “Family Management Strategy”
When you've tried to communicate, and you're talking to a brick wall, and nothing seems to make a difference, you might consider the other person is simply not willing to change or capable of change. Either ever, or right now.
In that case, you focus on what you can control, yourself. You go into Phase 2!
Phase 2 is all about getting through, with a “family management strategy” that will reduce any negativity and pain you experience, and increase the peace in your life.
It's about accepting the situation is what it is, they are what they are, and you have to use alternative ways to live with this, given no positive change is happening.
- Boundaries – do you have any? If not, set some. And then stick to them. Boundaries in terms of what you will and won't do, will and won't take from people in terms of how you're treated, and having new flow-on choices you make if your boundaries are broken. You start to see that by removing yourself from the old dynamic, due to new boundaries, you break the pattern by not engaging further and diving into negativity with them.
- Relying on them – are you asking things of them that they repeatedly won't give you or can't give you? Perhaps they've shown they're not equipped to deliver what you need. You might go to them for advice or support, and they continually let you down. It's time to learn from that, and stop asking for blood from a stone. You CAN get what you need in life, but perhaps just not from them, at least not right now. If you stop pushing to get something from them that they're never willing or capable of giving you, you suddenly open up energetically so that the advice, love, support and connection you want can come to you from somewhere else. The Universe might just surprise you… in what you need showing up when you stop expecting it to come from specific people.
- Non-reaction – whenever they behave badly, your primary focus is to be in non-reaction, and choosing peaceful response. This isn't about being a doormat! It's about calm, clear, assertive, non-confrontational energy in the face of someone else's bad behavior and pain. It means you don't fuel the fire, and you instead break the pattern, reduce your upset and increase your peace. See the free related resources below for step by step guidance on how to practise peaceful response and how to live with inner peace in your life, despite difficult people and situations.
- Reduce exposure – and at the end of it all, sometimes you realize that you simply don't want to be in the firing line of bad behavior anymore, and you can consciously choose to limit your exposure to certain people. You can love them from a distance, have contact but within the boundaries of what works for you.
While you do these things above for your own peace and sanity, it's good to know that when creating changes in YOU and your way of operating, is actually does energetically influence people around you.
And so you never know… that difficult family member may start to behave differently once you consistently behave differently, just in response to the change in dynamic at your end.
11. FORGIVE, FORGIVE, FORGIVE
And, last but not least, and actually above ALL ELSE, if you learn the power of forgiveness, you will FREE YOURSELF.
When dealing with difficult family, the most soulful, conscious, powerful and FREEING thing you can do on your life journey, is to forgive.
But most people have a warped idea of what forgiveness is. It's a loaded word for many, and if you learn accurate perspective on forgiveness, you'll find yourself eager to forgive at every opportunity because you know what it will give you!
To get that accurate perspective and step by step guidance on using forgiveness in your life so you can be free, check out the related coaching video below.
I hope you've found this practical guide helpful, for dealing with difficult family members.
I send you love, peace and warmest wishes, Bernadette
Thank you for providing me some much needed clarity with this article Bernadette. I realized I need to take a hard look at myself before I create expectations for members of my family. It is a tough road towards self-realization but baby steps is the way to go for me as of now.
You’re welcome Sonny, I’m glad this was a helpful resource for you and I send my very best wishes for your path ahead. Thanks for being here in the community with you. Bernadette 🙂
I’ve been alienated by my whole family of niece/hubby baby & family, nephew/wife/baby & family and my brother by my sister in law. She told me she didnt want to see me with her grandchild on facebook because she doesn’t have time for the baby. She is a nasty kniving controller. through the years I didnt realize how she manipulates my presence in the family. when her kids married and in laws came into picture, I find she wants to hoard the relationships and does everything she can to keep me away from them. I finally get it, but it has made me so tearfully sad and I have walked away from the family. I don’t know how to go about re establishing a relationship with my nieces family and nephews family as any gathering includes her in her frowning, pouting mannerisms.
Hi Katherine, tough situation and yes it’s possible to reconnect with those you chose, but it is going to require you to make peace inside yourself with the fact that a) this is who she is and b) that you can’t change that about her and c) the biggie… that it’s actually not about you (people that behave in toxic, rude or controlling ways for example, are playing out their own issues, and perhaps you are the target of that behavior, something she can focus on to exert her issues or power-over behavior, but it truly is not about you. Once you realize this, then it’s a case of staying in that truth AND choosing to be the bigger person. Be a demonstration in the world of what a calm and conscious person is, be that around the rest of your family, and when she is there, be it even more. It’s definitely not easy, but it’s well worth the practice. Love, B
Thank you so much for writing all this! Family relationships get so complicated and difficult and i’ve never read si much truth in tjose relationships issues before! So thank you for helping me to realise all this. It makes things clearer. However, I’m still very worried for me: since we had our little girl, my mother in law is making every thing so much more difficult and painful… i understand i had some expectations from them as their son, my man, is the only child, i thought they would be delighted to have a grand child, there would be just like presents and cuddles…but none of that at all… so, you are right i have stopped compared to my family or have expectations from them… but this summer we are getting married, i know they will find an excuse for not coming as always, as they don’t like to socialise with people, but my man has still hope his parents will come (of course, bless him). but we have to spend some holidays time with them, in their house, before the wedding (we couldn’t do it any other way,we live far don’t see them much…). I am very scared she will try to mess with me during this time, to behave badly then put the blame on me, to make me go mad then she’ll just have to say : “look your wife to be is awful, then we won’t come to your wedding son!”…then my wedding will be awful, my man will put blame on me… and i will feel such a disaster…. so i am praying to hold my mouth shut in front of them, i am praying to keep peace in my heart…i just hope trully i won’t get the blame this time…i really do hope so…
Hey Maggie, a couple of things… hold the light for a better outcome. Whatever we visualize and rehearse in our minds we end up feeding with our energy. Rather than give life and power to the negative possibilities, be radical and a) every day wish your in-laws peace, health and happiness in a meditation. For 2 minutes send the most powerful positive energy you can into the Universe for their wellbeing (it’s incredible what this shift in your energy can do). b) visualize things going well for you and for everyone involved, and as you visualize imagine white light surrounding everyone.
Next, remember you can’t control other people or life’s unfolding, and worry is wasted energy that only feeds problems. So focus all that energy you have on yourself, and being the best person you can be. Don’t underestimate how capable you are of being peaceful and calm, and where necessary lovingly assertive with boundaries, when you need to be. I send much love your way. And remember, what most counts is not what they do or don’t do, but who you chose to be in the fact of whatever life brings. Bernadette x
Thank you so much! i got something new.
You’re welcome, a pleasure to share this with you. B